Agbonlahor and Walcott stay with Under-21s

November 18, 2007

Theo Walcott and Gabriel Agbonlahor have travelled with the England Under-21 squad to Portugal ahead of their Euro 2009 qualifier in Agueda on Tuesday.

Injuries to Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen and Emile Heskey has left senior boss Steve McClaren short on attacking options for the crucial clash against Croatia the following day, with Walcott and Agbonlahor currently focusing on the under-21s.

Tottenham striker Darren Bent, who played for the under-21s two qualifying campaigns ago, is another option for McClaren after Israel's win against Russia put England back in control as they look to reach Austria and Switzerland next summer.

Qualifying for Stuart Pearce's youngsters has not been as traumatic as it has for the seniors, and they protect a 100% record in Portugal.

A point in Agueda will see them reach the play-offs for their finals in Sweden.

Agbonlahor, who has played in every qualifier this season like Walcott, suffered a slight knee injury against Bulgaria on Friday but Pearce is still hopeful the Aston Villa striker will play against Portugal.

Pearce has been using graduation to the seniors as an incentive for his youngsters, and Craig Gardner is hoping McClaren's men can complete the job - because it will put an end to Villa boss Martin O'Neill being linked with being England boss.

'Hopefully we'll qualify and I think we have a great chance,' said Gardner. 'Obviously the gaffer will stay at Villa, and that's how we want it.'

O'Neill has shaped a squad at Villa Park full of young English talent, with the likes of Gardner and Agbonlahor impressing.

'The gaffer likes to bring in young players, he's signed under-21s from last season like Scott Carson, Ashley Young and Nigel Reo-Coker,' added Gardner.

'He gives us a lot of praise in training and has a laugh as well. He has to take a lot of credit for getting the best out of the young players at the club.'